nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
January 27, 2009
Lois Markle is very compelling to watch in her brief appearances as Berte, the skittish and dutiful maid to Mr. Jørgen Tesman and Mrs. Hedda Tesman née Gabler in the new Broadway mounting of Ibsen's 1890 play. Also the sound design by John Gromada is sensitive and nuanced. And every one of the ushers I encountered before the show and during intermission was courteous and efficient, and the seats of the American Airlines Theatre were as comfortable as I remember them during the first act of some other show I saw there in recent years.
And then there's everything else about the Roundabout's revival of Hedda Gabler. Christopher Shinn's vague, artless, and perfunctory adaptation is, at best, unspeakable. Ian Rickson's direction, like the secrets of Fatima, will apparently be disseminated to the cast at the producers' discretion at some indefinite point in the future, because two hours and twenty minutes of aimless meandering, head-scratching, and couch-pushing simply cannot be the product of even the most lackadaisical rehearsal process. The set, costumes, and lights amount to the most unadventurous design for a show of this budget in recent memory. And save for Markle, every member of the ensemble—most of whom I've seen do excellent work on numerous occasions—is giving such a bewilderingly sub-par performance that my theatre-going companion kept muttering incredulously, "The joke's on us, right? The joke must be on us."
As a courtesy to these very-good-except-for-this-production actors, I will not go into too much detail about what they're saying and doing (or being forced to say and do). As a courtesy to Ibsen, whose play is unanimously considered to be a masterpiece of modern drama, I will go into enough detail to make it clear that this version is incredibly far off the mark. (To read a synopsis of this play, click here.)
Shinn, Rickson and Mary-Louise Parker seem to have collectively decided that our heroine should be downright hateful to everyone from the very beginning, which not only makes her abrasively unsympathetic, but renders all of her subsequent actions meaningless and shock-free. Hedda Gabler should be, and has been in the several other productions I've enjoyed, as nihilistically seductive to the audience as she is to each of the male characters in the play; indeed, the plausibility of the plot hinges on our belief that these guys would do virtually anything to give this sullen and preoccupied beauty the most fleeting sense of diversion.
Even her entrance, which follows a delightfully misleading conversation between Tesman and his aunt about the virtues of his beloved Hedda, is spoiled; a pointless prologue has been added to the play wherein Parker half-skulks, half-jetes around the room, stripping the sheets off furniture and impishly tipping over a chair. And I cannot even comment on the last moments of the play, except that—Spoiler Alert, I guess—a certain title character's self-inflicted demise is met with such casual interest that several audience members, including myself, involuntarily guffawed.
I really love this play and I wish I were inspired to write more, but the production currently on offer engenders this reviewer with not a single insight (fresh or stale). This Hedda Gabler is not the fascinating and tragic tale of an ambitious woman trapped in a man's world; it is one of the greatest characters in all of dramatic literature trapped in an aggressively irrelevant production by a nonprofit that appears to have no vision beyond the starry names they strive to include in their subscriber brochures. What a major embarrassment for the Roundabout Theatre Company. Somebody on the staff really should have read the adaptation or sat in on a rehearsal. Shame on them.